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Childhood adversity and substance use: exploring the connection and how to prevent harms

5 August 2020
Student Spotlight: Lucy Grummitt

Roughly 40% of people have experienced childhood adversity and subsequently, have a substantially greater risk of developing substance use problems than those who have not had these experiences. Matilda Centre PhD candidate, Lucy Grummitt, is currently investigating why these exposures may cause substance use problems to inform the next stage of her work in substance use prevention.

Adverse childhood experiences, including child abuse, neglect, and coping with parental mental illness or substance abuse , are alarmingly prevalent and experienced by about 4 in 10 people. They are associated with multiple health-related consequences later in life, one of which is a substantially increased risk of developing substance use problems.

However, it is not clear why, and without a solid understanding of the causal mechanisms explaining this relationship, effective prevention for trauma-related substance use in young people is hindered.

Understanding why these exposures may cause substance use problems is what Matilda Centre PhD candidate, Lucy Grummitt, has been investigating with the support of her supervisors at the University of Sydney and collaborators at Columbia and Harvard universities.

Lucy conducted a systematic review of modifiable factors in the relationship between childhood adversity and substance use. The review focused on substance use in adolescents and young adults; a critically important period in the development of future substance use disorders. The results revealed numerous targets for substance use prevention for young people with histories of adverse childhood experiences. These included internalising and externalising behaviours, mental ill-health, parenting and peer factors.

Lucy’s subsequent work will focus on adapting existing substance use prevention programs to target these factors.

Although preventing adverse childhood experiences is an ultimate goal, it is not always possible, and therefore it is vital we work to prevent the harmful consequences of these experiences, including substance use problems.
Lucy Grummitt
Lucy Grummitt

Lucy Grummitt

In 2019, Lucy was awarded the PREMISE Travel and Career Development Support Grant. This award supported her in temporarily moving to New York to collaborate with researchers at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. She is currently working with Associate Professor Katherine Keyes and Noah Kreski in the Department of Epidemiology, and Associate Professor Katie McLaughlin at Harvard University, on a project estimating the disease burden associated with childhood adversity.

Lucy’s research is supported by an Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship. Lucy is supervised by Associate Professor Nicola Newton and Dr Erin Kelly, with auxiliary supervision from Associate Professor Katherine Keyes.

Caitlin Ward

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